Repeating pattern design in Photoshop and Illustrator
June 5, 2006 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Repeating pattern / seamless tile design in Photoshop and Illustrator -- do I need plugins?

I'm interested in generating repeating patterns for silkscreening. I know that you can make seamless tiles with Photoshop but I haven't figured out all its possibilities and limitations. Ideally I would be able to vary the scale, rotation, drop, etc. of the motif. I'm not as familiar with Illustrator so I have very little idea what its capabilities are for repeating motifs.

I also know that there are Photoshop and Illustrator plugins out there, but don't know if they're worth it. Anyone here ever used any of these? Or know of other plugins I should look into?


Any additional pointers to books or websites that could help me with this quest would be much appreciated.
posted by kmel to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
make sure you check out:


for all its worth before you pay for something extra. That is photoshops built in tiler.

(I just found it out last week!)
posted by darkpony at 9:27 AM on June 5, 2006

How many of these are you planning to do? If it's a one-off thing, you should be able to do it with the built-in tools and a little ingenuity.

Otherwise, get the plug-in.
posted by cillit bang at 9:31 AM on June 5, 2006

if you're not afraid if illustrator, i'd recommend it. its files are resolution-independent, unlike photoshop's, and tiling is also easy. my favorite additions for the program's tiling capabilities are tessella and kimbo. link has fully-functioning demos.
posted by patricking at 9:50 AM on June 5, 2006

Don't by any means overlook Terrazzo from Xaos Tools; it’s without peer as a symmetrical tiling tool/kaliedoscope for PS. It does exist for OSX if you’re on a Mac; you just have to email them to get the info. There’s also the Core Image tiling tools in OSX, but cool as they are, they don’t have all the built-in PS smarts that Terrazzo offers as a plug-in, like saving out the repeating tile as a new doc, a moveable repeat-unit window, and a choice of all 17 types of tiling symmetry. I’ve been interested in computer-generated kaleidoscopic effects forever, and Terrazzo beats everything I’ve found if you actually want to put your discoveries to work.

Tessella is quite cool for IL; you can even use it with imported bit-map graphics with a little fiddling for Terrazzo-like results; email me if you want to go that route—I’ve got some links and notes about how I managed it. But if you’ve got Terrazzo, there’s no point in mucking about with Tessella except on vector images inside IL.

Some other digital-kaleido-toys can be found here, and here; the latter one’s very cool but hasn’t been updated in a long while...
posted by dpcoffin at 10:37 AM on June 5, 2006

There are plenty of tutorials out there - it really isn't that hard to make them where you would need to buy a plug-in.
posted by JJ86 at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2006

As for books, besides all the MCEscher stuff, there's quite a lot on tiling and making tesselations from math geeks, and some much more practical stuff from the quilters. This one’s the best I’ve seen of that type. Here’s what looks to be a tutorial on using PS to create a half-drop repeat, based on an OOP PS book.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:09 AM on June 5, 2006

It might be worth getting the Gimp if you're not locked into Photoshop or Illustrator formats. There's a plugin called Texturize that produces excellent results.

*not intended to be a fanboy; I use the gimp only for Texturize
posted by hoborg at 3:43 PM on June 5, 2006

Offset works great in Photoshop, at least for "texture"-type patterns. If you're going for Escher-style tesselations, you might need something else.

(For the record: Filter->Other->Offset, enter values of about half of the image's resolution for X and Y. This will place the edges of your image in the center instead, and you can edit/clone/whatever the seams to make it appear seamless. It's an old trick for making textures for 3D/games/etc.)
posted by neckro23 at 4:39 PM on June 5, 2006

There’s a big difference between designing repeating patterns and creating seamless tiles, and in the software built to do these different tasks.

Repeat patterns, typically found in wallpaper, fabric, etc., celebrate repetition and depend on a well-established range of distinct ways to vary the arrangement of the repeated, and often mirrored or rotated or even differently colored, elements.

Seamless tiling aims to conceal repetition by making invisible the boundaries between identical tiled elements.

Based on the software mentioned in, and the language of, the original post, the question here is about repeating patterns, not seamless tiling.
posted by dpcoffin at 5:00 PM on June 5, 2006

Other interesting online patternmaking resources, including the standard texts on the subject.
posted by dpcoffin at 5:28 PM on June 5, 2006

Two more.
posted by dpcoffin at 5:33 PM on June 5, 2006

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